NFC divisional playoff
Carolina Panthers (12-5) at St. Louis Rams (12-4)
Site: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis
Time: 4:30 p.m.
TV: Chs. 45, 5.
Line: Rams by 7 1/2 .
Record vs. spread: Panthers 7-10. Rams 9-6-1.
Series: Tied 7-7.
Last meeting: Rams won, 38-32, on Dec. 23, 2001, at Carolina.
Story line: Carolina is coming off an impressive wild-card victory over Dallas last week in which Stephen Davis rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown. Now the Panthers hit the road to face the speedy Rams, who averaged 33.6 points inside the Edward Jones Dome during the regular season.
When the Panthers have the ball: Everything starts with Davis, who rushed for 1,444 yards and eight touchdowns while earning 4.5 yards a carry in the regular season. QB Jake Delhomme played as if he were a playoff veteran against Dallas, making the Cowboys pay for stacking the line of scrimmage to stop Davis. Look for Delhomme to again try to complete big-play passes to wide receivers Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad. The key for Carolina will be staying out of third-and-long situations.
When the Rams have the ball: It's funny how running back Marshall Faulk has become something of the forgotten man in this year's playoffs. Faulk is healthy and still talented enough to win a game by himself. Coach Mike Martz's offense works best when Faulk gets plenty of touches. Marc Bulger plays well at home but also has a history of throwing interceptions. Look for the Rams to start off passing and then turn to their ground attack later in the game. Having receiver Isaac Bruce back in the lineup will help Bulger, who cannot afford to sit in the pocket waiting for the Panther rush to get to him.
Bottom line: The Panthers' offense has to take care of the ball and keep Faulk & Co. off the field, because the Rams have too many weapons not to score a lot of points. Expect St. Louis to advance.
- Los Angeles Times
PANTHERS: Questionable: TE Marco Battaglia (quadriceps); S Jarrod Cooper (hamstring).
RAMS: Probable: LB Robert Thomas (groin).